Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 22, 1911.djvu/111

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


Correspondcfice. 85

hardly more than 530 different surnames. It seems to me almost inconceivable that the extensive, cumbersome, and sometimes very complicated institution of exogamy should have been invented simply as a precaution against unions between the nearest relatives. Granting the prevalence of an aversion to the marriages of near kin, we are confronted with the question how this aversion has originated. Dr. Frazer's answer is, — "We do not know and it is difficult even to guess." Yet he makes a cautious attempt to solve the riddle. He observes that the great severity with which incest is generally punished by savages seems to show that they believe it to be a crime which endangers the whole community. It may have been thought to render the women of the tribe sterile and to prevent animals and plants from multiplying ; such beliefs, Dr. Frazer remarks, appear in point of fact to have been held by many races in different parts of the world. But he admits himself that all the peoples who are known to hold them seem to be agricultural, and that incest is in particular supposed to have a sterilizing effect on the crops. It is indeed a poor argument to conjecture that a careful search among the most primitive exogamous peoples now surviving, especially among the Australian aborigines, might still reveal the existence of a belief in the sterilizing or injurious effects of incest "upon women generally and particularly upon edible animals and plants." But there are much more serious difficulties in the way of accepting Dr. Frazer's theory. Is it really good common sense to presume that an aversion which had originated in the superstition mentioned could have survived among all civilised nations without showing any signs of decay ? And how could any law based on it account for the normal absence of erotic feelings in the relations between parents and children and brothers and sisters? Although law may forbid a son to marry his mother, a father to marry his daughter, a brother to marry his sister, it could certainly not prevent him from desiring such a union ; have the most draconic codes ever been able to suppress homosexual inclinations ? Plato observed that an unwritten law forbids as sufficiently as possible parents from incestuous intercourse with their children and brothers from intercourse with their sisters ; " nor," he adds, " does the thought of such a thing ever enter at all into the minds of most of